Friday, July 19, 2013

Jesus Reincarnated

Joseph of Arimathea gave Jesus' body a customary-Jewish burial on the evening of the Passover. Before daybreak on the second day after the burial, a woman, or women, discovered that Jesus' body was missing from the tomb. However, an angel or angels instructed the woman or women to tell the Disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee, or just reminded them of Jesus' words regarding His resurrection.

Then Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, either when she was at the tomb or on her way back to tell the Disciples about the empty tomb. She either grabbed His feet and worshiped Him, or was told by Him not to touch Him.

If that is at all confusing, you have the disparate accounts in the Gospels to thank.

Jesus Reincarnated
Besides the vast number of contradictions from one Gospel to the next, one of the strangest aspects of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances is the great difficulty with which people had in recognizing Him. People under stress or grief can experience “jamais vu”, which is sort of the opposite of "deja vu". It is where a known face, word, or situation instead appears unfamiliar. That is a possible explanation, but what if Jesus did not look like Himself anymore? Let us take a closer look at one of these post-resurrection appearances to see if we can identify the real Jesus.

Luke 24:13-35 records the first and second appearances of Jesus since His resurrection, at least according to Luke, who skipped the Jesus-Mary encounter. The story goes like this:

The day that the empty tomb was discovered, "two of them" (Jesus' disciples, but not of the Eleven Disciples {12-1, Judas had killed himself}) were walking from Jerusalem to a town roughly seven miles (~11 kilometers) to the northwest, when Jesus came along and walked with them (Luke 24:13-15). As Luke 24:16 renders it:
but they were kept from recognizing [Jesus]. NIV
They "were kept" from recognizing Jesus? That speaks of some sort of active impediment or effort which prevented their recognition. That impediment may have been that Jesus neither looked nor sounded like He did before. Or, that effort may be God supernaturally inhibiting their recognition of Jesus, like how God prevented the Disciples from understanding Jesus' prophesy of His fate in Luke 9:43-45 and Luke 18:31-34. Either way, there is clear implication that the reason why they could not recognize had nothing to do with either their innate abilities or their mental status. We will revisit this point later, but now let us continue on with the story.

Jesus Misunderstood
Jesus inquired about the discussion they had been having, and, shocked that this unrecognized Jesus did not know about what had recently happened, they briefly explained that Jesus had been a prophet who was crucified by the Chief Priests, and how the women had found the empty tomb and had an angelic encounter (Luke 24:16-24). The most interesting line in that summary comes from Luke 24:21:
"but we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place." NIV
Note the past tense here. They "had hoped", meaning that their hope had died with Jesus.

What hope was that? The redemption of Israel. If we take "redeem Israel" in its Old Testament Biblical context, it is more about re-establishing the Jewish nation, independent of foreign (Roman) rule, and enriched by God's blessing, similar to what we see in 2 Samuel 7:23, Nehemiah 1:8-11, and Micah 6:4 (among many other references). This appears to be the context of that statement, as opposed to a reference of a cleansing of sins and a shiny, happy afterlife.

Of course, that was a false expectation. So Jesus rebuked them for not believing the Scriptures, and then reviewed with and explained to them all of the Old Testament Messianic prophesies (Luke 24:25-27).

The Birth of Christianity?
Wait a moment though. Why would these disciples have such wrong expectations and understanding? They were disciples, literally students of Jesus' teaching, so how could they get it so wrong?

It could be that Jesus was a poor teacher, but how could that be? Teaching was Jesus' thing! Or, at least, it was one of His major focuses.

It could be that, like what we noted above, God had prevented them from understanding. However, if that was the case, then Jesus' rebuke of their misunderstanding, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe", would seem misplaced; chiding them for something completely out of their control.

It could be that, although they had become Jesus' disciples, they had resisted His teaching and clung to the traditional interpretations, but why would they follow Him if they did not believe what He was teaching?

Or maybe, just maybe, it could be that this poorly thought-out work of fiction written with an intent. That intent? Simple. Show that those who had been eyewitnesses to Jesus' teaching, even those who had become disciples, did not fully understand His teaching of redemption.

At the hands of the early "church" leadership, this type of recorded misunderstanding would have allowed Jesus' message to evolve beyond anything which the historical Jesus had actually said, inferred, or intended. In other words, this change in understanding was how Christianity was born; "You only thought you understood. What Jesus really meant was... And it is only now that this truth is revealed to us by the Grace of God."

Jesus of a Different Form
Anyway, as the story continued, the disciples invited Jesus to stay with them that night. At dinner, after Jesus shared bread with them, they finally recognized Him and then He suddenly disappeared (Luke 24:28-32).

These disciples went back to tell the Eleven Disciples what had happened. The Eleven believed them, and reported that Simon/Peter had also been visited by Jesus (Luke 24:33-35).

OK, let us take a final look at how the disciples "were kept" from recognizing Jesus until the breaking of the bread. To do so, we will jump over to Mark, the original source of the story. In Mark 16:12-13 we read:
Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. NIV
Jesus appeared "in a different form". In other words, Jesus did not look like Jesus. It was as if Jesus had been reincarnated as someone else, in a manner of speaking. Or, maybe it was someone else! Also, note the different outcome; the Eleven did not believe these disciples.

Jesus may not have been the only thing reincarnated. It may be that Luke, who has consistently been a bit of an editor, was using Mark for a source here, and did not like what he read. A different form? If he did not look like Jesus, how can you be certain that he was Jesus? That is a huge problem when you are trying to build up credibility in the story, because someone could suggest that an imposter had claimed to be the resurrected Jesus. That uncertainty had to die.

Luke resurrected, polished, and expanded this snippet from Mark. Luke wanted to be sure to present Jesus as Jesus, without any possible doubt. So it was the same Jesus, but they were kept from identifying Him, presumably by God. Of course, as noted above, that makes Jesus' rebuke of the disciples' misunderstanding unwarranted. Luke was not that good of an editor. ;-)


  1. Excellent. Nice parsing of paragraphs. I had read that "different Jesus" thing before and it was just in that pile of "wow, that is weird" -- but now you made sense of it: "Wow, what a great literary device to create a new cult."

    I told my son today about the zombies walking the streets after Jesus' death. His response, "Really! Jeeeeez!"

    I wonder if "Raf" will come back to ask you to take down this post.

    But even if he does, how can we be sure we will recognize him?

  2. Thanks Sabio! LOL! I doubt "Raf" will be back, but you never know. This would be an easier post for him to criticize, given the speculation behind my main point, but the contradiction between Mark and Luke, and especially the unwarranted rebuking, would still be hurdles for him... if he was really interested in the truth. ;-)

    Say hi to your son (and the rest of the fam) for me, and at least you can reassure him that those "zombies" were not out to eat brains. :-)

    Thanks again for the section heading suggestion!


  3. TWF, I greatly admire this Biblical project of yours and am learning much from it. After finishing your exploration and research, I wonder if you will use all these posts to compose another form of media. Personally, I think they are perfect for that. On my blog, I use "Index Posts" to organize both for the reader, but more for myself -- that is my method. You have a sharper mind and will probably remember where you keep everything when it comes to creating a new presentation.

    I light of that, I have a few more suggestions. But instead of a long comment, just now I threw together TWO posts of my suggestions for you. The first one repeats what I said in my earlier suggestion. The second are new suggestions for today. But check them both out if you have time on returning from your vacation.

    (1) Visual Organization

    (2) Using Links

  4. Thanks Sabio!

    I am really itching to focus more on to a couple of other hobbies, but I do really desire to make this blog more accessible too.

    I have got some link "indexes" already, such as linking posts to the associated summary chapters, like you can see here in Mark, as well as having an overall site index. (All of which are several months behind on updates!)

    But I think it can be improved even more, and will definitely be considering your organizational advice going forward. Thanks again!

  5. Why does the bible have to make everything complicated? Makes me think this god does not want anyone to believe.....guess theists call this faith. Faith in bad logic.

  6. It is rather odd that it is so complicated, huh Christian? Although, I will offer that the logic is (normally) not too bad... if you only stick to one Gospel. Harmonizing the four is a real challenge! :-)

  7. I think you are right on the spot TWF. It appears that the author of Luke is claiming that the disciples of Jesus did not understand him before the pentecost. In Acts 1:6, the eleven have expressed the same expectation about the kingdom of Israel and Jesus role in reestablishing it. Interestingly enough he did not deny that, rather rebuked them that it is not for them to know the times when this will happen (Acts 1:7), and then foretold the pentecost and it's purpose (Acts 1:8). What is also curious,is the fact that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist is made by the author of Luke to prophecy about Jesus under the guidance of the holy spirit (Lk 1:67) that:
    1) he has come to his people (Jews & Israeli) and wrought redemption for his people
    2) as he said through his holy prophets of long ago, salvation from from their enemies
    3) to remember his holy covenant to his people
    4) the oath he swore to Abraham, to rescue them from the hand of their enemies
    (Lk 1:68-75)

    Now here is Zechariah prophesying through the holy spirit, and he gives a pure Jewish outline of salvation and what the prophets have foretold about the Messiah as opposed to what Jesus told his unnamed disciples in (Lk 24:26). Jesus talks about the suffering Messiah, the holy spirit about a military messiah who will beat Jewish enemies, in those times the Romans. This is best explained in terms of evolving concept, wouldn't you agree?

    Yet Christians will claim that the enemies are the unbelievers and demons, yet John 8:37-44 tells us that the Jews are the sons of the devil, which would make the Jews the enemy from which their God will redeem them according to the holy spirit and Zechariah's prophecy.

    I come to think that the gospels are apologetic literature against Judaism, specially the later ones.They are all struggling to explain the Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, and to redefine his original message. This becomes obvious in the face of the failure to fulfil the central gospel message: The kingdom of God is at hand, that is the reestablishing of the kingdom of Israel, and the obvious destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

    I would really like to hear your thoughts about that.

    Keep up with the good work.

  8. @ Agema -- I think the anti-Jewish side of the NT is played down far too much. Good job calling it.

  9. Thanks agema-makedonin!

    I think that you have got a good grasp on the Scriptures. It is great to see someone else's mind putting the pieces together. :-)

    "This is best explained in terms of evolving concept, wouldn't you agree?"

    Speaking generally, I definitely believe that there was an evolving concept along the lines of what you are suggesting in your "apologetic literature against Judaism" paragraph.

    Specifically regarding Luke, the Zechariah prophesy, and the Disciple's misunderstanding, it is not as clear to me. What muddies the water is that Luke was one of the later Gospels, and that Zechariah prophesy is exclusively in his Gospel. Luke, as we know it and as you know, was likely completed after the Temple destruction. If there were not "drafts" of Luke before them in circulation such that Luke would have needed to be concerned with consistency, Luke should have had plenty of time to edit this military-Messiah quote to be more in line with his proposed Jesus message.

    So my best guess at what is going on there is that we see Zechariah for two reasons: 1) Jews (at least those outside of the religious hierarchy and its influence) were still far more likely to believe than Gentiles in the early stages because they knew the background story of God and a Messiah. 2) Luke still very-much needed to prove Jesus with prophesy, and Zachariah's prophesy is pure OT stuff to do that. With Zachariah's prophesy, Luke could jump right in to cross-referencing the OT prophesies even before the story of Jesus was fully revealed (so there would be fewer questions, possibly). These could be offered as proofs from the outset, and they would have to be in very similar wording to the OT prophesies in order to have credibility.

    Now, when the questions arose about Salvation from enemies and God rescuing His people, the "spiritual leader", who was reading Luke's document and the Scriptures to the (likely illiterate) audience, could have orally explained how that Salvation was eternally from the forces of evil (the true enemies) and that God's people actually referred to those who followed Him, not just those with a little missing penis skin. ;-)

    At lease, those are my thoughts right now, agema-makedonin. If I come up with any better explanation, I will net you know. Also, as I have seen several times, Luke was not the best editor, so your idea of having Zechariah included early and then have the "real" prophesy evolve from there, leaving behind this evidence of evolution, is entirely possible.

  10. Hi TWF, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. As you may have suspected I have no formal training, but that does not prevents me from using my head :))

    I think your explanation is likely scenario, and could have easily be the case.

    The reasons why I think that specially Luke's gospel is a post temple destruction polemic are this: Luke's olivet discourse makes the destruction of the Jerusalem a judgment of the Jews (Lk 21:23-24)(the origin of a preterist view),and the reason for that is clearly stated by his Jesus in (Luke 19:42a,44b):
    1) Jerusalem did not recognize "the things that make for peace" and
    2) "did not recognize the time of visitation from God".

    The enemies of the Jews are also identified there in (Luke 19:43), the enemies are those who will siege Jerusalem, the same enemies that Zechariah prophesied from which God will redeem Israel.

    So obviously, God did change his mind [or he had a plan], because Jerusalem did not recognized "Gods (alias Jesus)" visitation [although this things were now hidden from their eyes (Lk 19:42b)], therefore god handed the Jews and their city over to their enemies.

    However Paul explains a mystery: "a hardening has come upon part of Israel (Romans 11:25)[parallels (Lk 19:42b)] although Israel should be saved because of their ancestors (Rom 11:28) later on.

    Now this handing over to the enemies becomes rather a plan of god, and the slaughter of all this Jews in Jerusalem is a harsh punishment for something that they had no choice, because "God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all"(Rom 11:32) [reflect on that considering (1 John 3:4)].
    But until God shows his mercy, he is busy slaughtering Jews :)) to whom he is going to show mercy at later time :))

    Now this hardening happens "until the full number of the Gentiles has come in." (Rom 11:25) and Luke claims that "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled"(Lk 21:24) and than Jesus had to come. [time of the gentiles tells me that maybe Luke's author had access to some Pauline sources]

    Yet he obviously did not come, therefore Luke's author proceeded with Acts where he explains why all is like it is i.e. pentecost etc.

    And now we have Christianities :))

    I may as well be wrong, because I did not draw the right conclusion from what I have as an material, but to me it looks plausible at the moment.

    Take care, and keep them coming.

    @Sabio thanks man, antisemitism has it's roots in the new testament, this is something that no one could deny. No wonder it is downplayed.

  11. I think you are doing a great job, agema-makedonin. No formal training needed; just a brain!

    I have been too caught up at the smaller detail level to really piece together the evolution at this point, so you are definitely ahead of me in that regard. And what you have laid out here regarding Luke, its Pauline influence, and the slaughter-till-its-time "plan" (and its change) definitely appears reasonable to me. The author of Luke/Acts certainly worked the hardest of the four Gospels to tweak the message into a longer-term expectation than one of an immediately coming kingdom.

    I suspect that the Temple destruction was incredibly significant. My guess is that most Christians probably thought that the end/restoration would soon follow that tragedy/judgement. They certainly would have been looking to refine that thought as the years passed. Your analysis integrates well into that evolving narrative.

    Keep up the good work!